Parenting and Going Back to School
The decision to go back to school when you have children - whether they’re little ones or at the age of getting ready to pursue higher education themselves - isn’t an easy one. You may find yourself wondering how you can fit school into the mix of parenting, working a full-time job and other personal responsibilities. But did you know about 19% of working learners have children? If other parents are making it happen, so can you!
Returning to school to earn a degree or get a certificate in a specialty area is extremely rewarding and provides many benefits. And, depending on which field you’re in, higher education may be necessary in order to earn better pay and advance in your professional career.
Remember, you’re doing this so your children will have a better life, whether it be because they have you as a role model or because of the improved quality of life a better career can provide for your family. To give you the confidence that you can manage work, school and family life, check out the tips and resources below and feel good about pursuing your goals.
1. Gather a support network
As a working parent who is going back to school, it’s vital to have a reliable support network. Partner with your spouse, children, parents, siblings and/or close friends to enlist their help.
Discuss your goals and schedule with your family and come up with an action plan together. Determine who will be responsible for various chores, come up with a schedule for transporting kids to school and activities and figure out how you’ll handle grocery shopping and cooking and other household responsibilities.
Involve your friends too! Swap favors with friends who have kids so the arrangement is mutually beneficial. They can babysit your kids one night and you can return the favor by watching their kids another night. It’s a win-win situation!
And, if you feel comfortable, check with your employer and school to see what student-parent resources might be available to you, such as shared childcare.
2. Prioritize planning and managing your schedule
Balancing a job, family life and school can be done – and done well – if you learn how to manage your time wisely and create a schedule that works for you and your family. The beauty of online education is that you can study when it works best for you, whether that’s after your kids go to bed, before your morning shift or another time.
When starting school, the following time management tips are recommended to help you succeed:
- Use time management tools to help you achieve your goals and eliminate distractions. Many digital calendars have sharing abilities, enabling you to easily coordinate your schedule with your significant other.
- Schedule family time into your days to ensure you maintain and foster your most important relationships. If you’re not intentional about setting aside time for your loved ones, it can become all too easy to get absorbed by your family tasks and neglect your studies - or vice-versa.
- Get organized and into the study mindset by creating a space that’s designated for studying. Whether this space is in a home office or in an unused closet, it should be free of distractions.
- Get good at quickly switching from family time to study time. Being able to immediately focus on your school tasks when it’s time to put your student hat on will allow you to make the most of your time. It may take some practice, but you’ll get there! Consider always having a backpack that contains all the tools you need for studying, such as a laptop, notebook and pens. This way you’ll be able to dig into your studies right away without wasting precious time getting set up.
3. Seek funding sources for parents
We know you’re receiving some benefit from your organization’s contribution to your education and that’s fantastic! However, depending on your organization’s specific education program, there may still be some remaining costs to cover.
If that’s the case for you, there are several other options available to help pay the balance of your school costs. Do your research in this area and you’ll discover opportunities that you didn’t even know existed. Additional resources to look into include:
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid® (FAFSA) to apply for needs-based federal grants.
Apply to specific scholarships for student-parents with children.
If you’re a military veteran, there are various financial resources specifically for veterans.
4. Explain to your kids what you’re doing
Get your kids excited about your academic pursuits by including them in the process as much as possible. Share your class schedule with them, let them look through your textbooks and, most importantly, have conversations about what going back to school will help you accomplish in your career and, ultimately, for your family.
While having these conversations with young children is important for making them feel included, older kids can greatly benefit from discussions about the types of opportunities a degree can lead to, getting them excited about their own higher education.
If you have children who are entering college at the same time you’re heading back to school, you can swap stories, study hacks, strategies and even spend quality time studying together. It can be a fantastic way to bond on a whole new level with your child.
5. Remain motivated by celebrating with your family
Student parents are often motivated to pursue college by a desire to improve their children’s lives and this can make them more successful than traditional students. Data shows that student parents achieve higher grade point averages (GPA) than other students. One-third of student parents have a GPA of 3.5 or higher, compared with 31 percent of independent nonparents and 26 percent of dependent students.
While your powerful reason for returning to school may be all the motivation you need to succeed, it’s still important to take time to celebrate both big and little accomplishments throughout your school journey. Every time you complete a paper, stick to your study schedule for the week, survive a test, give a presentation or complete a semester, plan something fun to do with your family to recognize your achievement. From going out to dinner at your favorite restaurant to having a board game night to enjoying a hike together, there are plenty of ways you can recognize all of your hard work.
Not only will these frequent celebrations give you and your family something to look forward to and keep you motivated, but it will show your children that it’s important to acknowledge and feel good about every step you take toward achieving your goals and not just the end result.
If you’re a working parent who is going back to school know that, while it will be challenging at times, it’s absolutely possible to be successful and achieve your goals. Not only are you working toward creating a more rewarding career for yourself, but you’re paving a better future for your kids. And that’s priceless.